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Bad

I live in a room

The door is locked

My mother is on the other side

I have a blanket

It’s okay

I’m okay

Sometimes I sleep

Sometimes my mother brings me food

So I eat

Sometimes I poop in the corner bucket

Mostly I wait

One day, strangers open the door

One is a lady

This is bad, she says

Very bad

Very very bad, the others nod

I look around at my room

My room is okay

Do they mean me?

Am I very very bad?

Police come to my room

Police get bad guys

This is bad, they say

Very, very bad

And then they get me

I never knew I was bad

They don’t take me to jail but almost

There are other kids

The lady screams at us

BE QUIET!

BE STILL!

STOP PULLING ON THE DOOR!

She sits on me

I’LL TEACH YOU. BE STILL!

I bite

The stranger lady comes back

She takes me to a new place

No biting! Be good, okay?

Biting is bad.

Very, very bad.

This house is cold

I don’t know these people, another strange lady and a man

The man is loud and big

I hide from him

Come here, let’s see who they brought!

The lady laughs

Poor thing.

Why does she think I’m poor?

He reaches under the table

I swing my fists and crawl away

He grabs my foot and drags me out

He is laughing, too

Tough little man, we just want to see you.

I kick my other foot and uh oh blood everywhere

He stops laughing

She yells and brings ice for his nose

STAY under there, then!

Ungrateful brat.

The lady comes back, rolling her eyes

At the next house she says

Watch out he kicks and bites.

He’s wild, like an animal.

There is a big boy here

He says he’ll kill me in my sleep

I scream and scream

His mother says

SHUT THE HELL UP!

He hits my head every day

For months

He pinches

And touches

And makes me

NO

He will kill me if don’t

Or if I tell

This is too much

I slam his head into a wall

And kick and kick and kick him when he falls

The stranger lady moves me again

She says

This one’s violent.

Watch him.

I don’t understand any of this

These people are strangers, too

They smile and try to hold my hand

I just want to be safe

Don’t touch me.

I will not be sat on

Or dragged

Or hit

Or touched

Or scared

I will keep them all away with my spiky mean

No one will ever hurt me again

I am bad

I am very, very bad

 

***

I wrote this one day as I tried to imagine early life through our son’s eyes. He was a wild, screaming child when he and his sister arrived.

He came to us terrified and determined to keep himself safe, a need that still causes him to struggle to interact with others, to sleep and to feel secure.

As he grew more able to articulate his memories, much of his behavior became understandable, even when apparently unreasonable.

Hubby and I work hard to soothe his terror and tame his PTSD.

Misadventures in Eating

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Photo Credit: Chris Piascik

The photo may seem incongruous. Just wait…

During our first year, our girl ate like a wild thing. She and her brother were undernourished, so I allowed them to have seconds and sometimes thirds.

Since “thirds” seemed to help them feel secure, I made portions smaller once they reached a healthy weight—they were eating the equivalent of maybe one-and-a-half helpings. As they settled, third helpings became unnecessary.

Then, one school day she neglected to finish her lunch. I mentioned she needed lunch to fuel her brain for the afternoon. She asked lots of questions. We spent about thirty minutes discussing nutrition.

I thought we’d made a breakthrough; it was our first real connection. The inaugural Mother-Daughter Conversation of True Meaning.

The next day, she’d eaten even less, but then we had another great conversation.

By the next week, she’d stopped eating lunch.

Within a month, she barely ate anything. Every meal was a struggle. Some days, we actually resorted to spoon-feeding her to get her to finish a meal. She was eight.

We went to the psychiatrist and pediatrician and ended up in a Children’s Hospital feeding program (outpatient) after six months. By that time, she was emaciated.

I was terrified she was developing an eating disorder. Foster children are at high risk for eating disorders; one study found a quarter of the foster children monitored engaged in “aberrant” eating behaviors.  Others show similar numbers.

Their psychologist is an understanding genius. She helped me understand what I’d done, though inadvertently, to foster the behavior—and how to reverse the process.

Ignore the negative behavior and make it inconvenient for her. Reward ANY move toward positive behavior.

She patted my shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know. But you can’t EVER give attention to a behavior unless you want it continued. It’s her way of controlling her world.”

She recommended that we ignore her eating issues altogether and substitute the worst-tasting Ensure-type product I could find. Give her only the meal substitute for a few days, then put both a meal and the bottle in front of her.

“Tell your daughter, ‘we don’t have a preference for which you ingest; either way, whatever you eat needs to be finished within half an hour. If you are finished when I return, you can go to bed five minutes later.’ Walk away,” the psychologist said, “then come back in half an hour and remove anything left over, without comment.”

Our girl was eating again within a week.

This was only the beginning. Now, I am always on alert…hypervigilant, if you will…in my quest to protect her from scheming against herself.

As parents, it’s easy to make mistakes. Here’s the great secret: almost no inadvertent mistakes cause permanent damage, as long as you make changes.

The best way to avoid those mistakes:

  • Surround yourself with individuals who are experienced with similar situations.
  • Find a mentor in an adoption professional you trust.
  • Talk to a counselor (either the child’s or a separate one for you) about your tactics. Ask them to be honest about whether they recommend what you’re attempting. Beforehand, make sure the counselor is experienced with foster/adopted children and their issues.
  • Read blogs and articles and medical journals and social work websites.
  • IGNORE (or be selective* in taking) advice from anyone who has never adopted or fostered. *Instances may occur in which one of these individuals brings an epiphany.
  • Don’t allow others to guilt you into anything (e.g., “She fell down AGAIN? And you didn’t pick her up to soothe her? You totally missed a bonding opportunity.” No, in my case, I prevented seventeen more falls).
  • Go with your gut: as you learn this child’s triggers and nuances, you’ll know when to avoid certain situations or try a tactic others might consider ridiculous. If you think it will work, try it. Trust yourself.

And finally, if you have been through the wringer, SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Someone needs help.

Yes, you. Right now. Start typing. 

Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Add your advice below.

 

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